Not Your Parents’ Drive-In

It started with a young man filing an application for a patent on August 6, 1932. On May 16, 1933 — with an investment of $30,000 USD — the father of drive-ins, Richard Hollingshead, was issued a patent (United States Patent #1,909,537) for the drive-in theater. Three weeks later on June 6, in the middle of the depression, he opened his first drive-in in Camden, New Jersey. If you had a quarter for the car and a quarter for each person in the car, you could catch a show at the drive-in on Crescent Boulevard.

After a long run with his patent, Richard Hollingshead saw his patent overturned in May 1950 by the Delaware District Court, and drive-in theaters sprang up across the United States and Canada. It’s not that there hadn’t been a number of drive-in theaters over the years. By 1939, there were 16 of them and by 1948, the number had risen to 820. But once the patent was overturned, drive-in theaters became a business profiteers were interested in opening.

Ten years later, in 1958, there were over 5,000 drive-in theaters across the U.S. alone with some, such as the Troy Drive-In in Detroit, MI and the Panther Drive-In in Lufkin, TX having space for 3,000 cars! By then, drive-in theaters were so popular with families that owners created miniature amusement parks for the kids with miniature trains, pony rides, talent shows, animal shows, and miniature golf. At some drive-in theaters, customers could order food from their cars, delivered by a car hop.

The popularity of the drive-in theater reached its peak in the late 1950s through to the mid-1960s, and fell into a steady decline in the decades that followed. It wasn’t long before there was only a handful of drive-in theaters, most of which had long closed up shop and given up on Richard Hollingshead’s depression-era dream.

Back in its hey day, entertainment was entertainment, and religion was serious business.

Fast forward to 2014, and drive-in theaters may actually begin to enjoy a resurgence as churches look to successful business models to make an impact on their bottom dollar. Mega churches aren’t generating the numbers they once did, and pastors are hoping to hold on to their congregations by catering to their wants as much as they address their needs … maybe more in some cases.

The Daytona Beach Drive In Christian Church in Florida began reaching out to congregants two years ago. With grape juice in tiny plastic ramekins carrying small pieces of communion bread under their lids (handed to congregants by a member of the congregation when the congregants drive in to church), and the speaker playing organ music while a disembodied voice instructs parishioners to remove the inner lid, hold the cup, and join in prayer, communion has taken on a new look altogether.

Think I’m making this up? Not at all. In fact, if you drive on down to Daytona Beach Shores in Florida and pull into the Dayton Beach Drive In Christian Church, all you have to do is to dial in 88.5 FM on your radio and wait for services to begin. Yes, people, where once we had park-and-pay lots, now it would seem that we have park-and-pray lots!

Speaking of prayer … got a prayer request? Just because you’re out there in the lot doesn’t mean there isn’t a prayer list, and it doesn’t mean you can’t get your prayer request on that prayer list. Just submit a prayer request via the church’s website contact page (who doesn’t have an iPad or a cellphone with Internet capabilities these days?) or call the church office on your smart phone or iPhone or what have you, and voila! your prayer request has been added to the list.

What about fresh hot coffee and doughnuts, courtesy of Krispy Kreme? Don’t worry. You can get all that in Friendship Hall in the middle of the lot.

The best part of all this is that no matter what kind of weather may be, the church services happen come rain or come shine. If your car gets uncomfortable for you, there are benches you can sit on … or bring your own chairs and sit under one of the shady trees. Those car speakers reach pretty much anywhere it would seem.

And when the service ends, honking car horns replace the more traditional clapping seen in most other churches.

So here’s the upswing to all this: It would seem that in today’s topsy-turvy world, people are following manufactured recording artists around religiously, and religion has become a perverted kind of entertainment. I wonder if someone’s going to try to patent that?

Elyse Bruce

Religion, spirituality and what’s between God and each of His children is something no outsider can understand. But every once in a while, a little perspective is needed and that’s exactly what one of the members of Calvary Redemption hopes to find. Humor and satire blend together in a style that owes as much to Mark Twain as it does to Stephen Leacock. This tale takes a peek behind the curtains and reveals the many surprises that lay waiting for the reader. ¬†Available in paperback or as an eBook. ¬†Click HERE to order now!

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